The drive from Sevilla to Jerez was beautiful and reminiscent of California (if, um, California had water). Olive groves, vineyards, and fields covered the rolling hills along the highway. As we approached Jerez, we were greeted by a ubiquitous sign in the area – a giant, metal silhouette of a bull on a hilltop. We were really excited about the AirBnB we had booked, but a little concerned since the host told us his wife would meet us at a gas station just outside of town and guide us in. Could finding the apartment really be that confusing? Turned out it could, and we were thankful to have such a helpful host. The streets were barely wide enough for a smartcar, not exactly marked, and wound every which way though the city, sharing with pedestrians, bikes, and equestrians.
Excited about the prospect of ditching the rental car in a garage, Brian soon discovered the joys of private garage parking Austin Powers style as he made about 3000 turns to get the smallish car into a tiny spot tucked around a few poles in the back corner of said garage. With the car finally parked, we headed for the apartment in a converted convent. It was awesome – three bedrooms, a living room, two bathrooms, and a kitchen to make any cook happy. It was way more space than we expected, and certainly way more than expected at the awesome price of $90 a night! If you go to Jerez, stay here. We spent a few minutes running around the apartment like children, blown away by how much space there was. After thoroughly congratulating each other on the decision to upgrade our accommodations for this part of the trip, we headed out for tapas and then off to the grocery store to stock up for the week.
We were enchanted by Jerez. The sleepy streets that wound around with no sense of direction, slowing and dissuading traffic; the buildings that dated back hundreds of years tucked up against one another, some in various states of disrepair, others restored; and the quaint restaurants surrounding the innumerable squares all made us want to stay in this little city forever. There was the tourist strip full of big name shops, but it was easily forgotten by stepping down a quiet side street and getting lost. Of all the cities we visited, Jerez probably did the best job of melding tourist conveniences and old world charm.
On our second day in town, we decided to try out some of the local sherry. We started out with a tour at La Tradicion, which was excellent. The layout of the bodega (winery) was beautiful, and the art gallery, though unexpected, was quite impressive. I guess when your family is landed gentry for the better part of a millennia, you accumulate some famous works of art. The sherry was very good, but surprisingly salty. We were enthused by the proffered bowl of olives during the tasting, only to realize too late that they were filled with anchovies. Gross.
Our second tasting of the day came at the recommendation of our host. Apparently we had arrived in time for the start of the European wine festival, and Jerez was going all out with seven days of guided sherry tasting dinners inside the Alcazar (old beautiful medieval castle). The one we chose was the Lustau bodega dinner, and for Brian it was like two and half hours of live Telemundo. He understood only one in four hundred words, but every statement dripped with emotion and drama. As far as Laurel could tell, the translation was roughly “Our sherry is the best in the world” repeated in various phrasings. Despite their impassioned claims (and the delicious though teeny food pairing plates), La Tradicion was still the better sherry of the two bodegas. However, attending a sherry tasting dinner in a gorgeous old castle had a way higher cool factor.
We also visited Pedro Domencq, which was much more touristy, but still an incredible sherry experience, as they take visitors through the entire process of sherry making and have see through barrels to demonstrate the differences between the types of sherry. The sherry was fine, and the brandy burned like, well, brandy.
The rest of our days in Jerez were spent cooking at the apartment, wandering the streets, enjoying some of the local fare (delicious!), and relaxing. We did some night photography walks to the Jerez Cathedral just at sunset, and the view and lighting were breathtaking. We were lucky to have stunning weather for the first four days there, and we took advantage of the bright skies for lots of walks, jogs, and photography.
Awesome pan in our apartment with recipe for Tortilla Espanol inscribed on the bottom
Spanish peppers are huge.
Moon over the Alcazar just before the start of the sherry dinner
Lustau sherry dinner
First course of sherry and food pairings
The tasting table at La Tradicion
See-through barrels at Pedro Domencq
One of the many barrel warehouses at Pedro Domencq
Plaza de la Ascuncion
The moon setting by the mission bells outside our window
Mission bells in the morning light
Jerez Cathedral at sunset
Jerez Cathedral just after sunset
Jerez Cathedral at night
Jerez streets and ghost cars
Plaza de la Ascuncion after dark
Night streets by the church outside our apartment
The view from the stairwell